Safety Star Program

The Safety Star Program recognizes employees who improve safety at UC Davis

The Safety Star Program was implemented to recognize campus employees who are making contributions to improve the safety culture at UC Davis. The award is quarterly, and nominees are eligible for three voting periods (9 months). Winners receive an engraved paper weight and are honored in the DSC Update newsletter and at the DSC quarterly meeting.

2nd Quarter Safety Star 2024
Jennifer Crook

Photo of Jennifer Crook holding a Safety Star award certificate and a blue balloon that reads Think Safe. Act Safe.

We are delighted to recognize Jennifer Crook as the Safety Star Award winner for the second quarter at UC Davis. Jennifer's exceptional dedication and proactive approach to safety have made a significant impact at the Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center (VMTRC) in Tulare.

As the Department Safety Coordinator for VMTRC, Jennifer handles safety training for all faculty, staff, students, interns, visiting scientists, residents, and now CAHFS employees. The facility includes research labs, diagnostic labs, and the dairy cattle production medicine teaching practice. This comprehensive scope requires Jennifer to address all aspects of lab safety as well as animal and field safety. Being located outside of Yolo County adds unique challenges to the safety program due to different county regulations and permits compared to campus programs.

Jennifer has introduced various innovative and engaging training activities over the years. “I learned early on that my colleagues do not like long boring lectures and that they are incredibly competitive,” Jennifer shares. “So, each year I design an interactive, fun activity for our in-person annual safety training.” These activities have included Kahoot quizzes, a bingo game, the "Safety Games" competition, Breakout boxes, Safety Collage posters, and even a baseball-themed game. Snacks and prizes are always a must.

One notable activity was the Safety Collage posters from last fall, which Jennifer turned into a giant art project. Teams took Polaroids of safety-related items and completed safety information worksheets, then artfully displayed their findings on large posters, which were presented to the group and now adorn the hallways of the lab building. “Most of the training activities are designed for team participation,” she explains. “This also fosters a sense of community and connection among all the different lab/work groups at our facility. I would be happy to share any of my training ideas with other departments.”

Jennifer's leadership was particularly evident during a recent catastrophic flooding event that affected VMTRC's neighbors and colleagues at the CAFHS Tulare branch. In an outstanding display of collaboration, alongside Terry Lehenbauer and David Irvine, she coordinated the provision of working space for displaced CAFHS colleagues, mitigating the impact on their services. Recovering from the flood involved close collaboration with two directors, facilities services, and all staff members to help move CAHFS back into VMTRC. This effort included identifying workspace changes, updating safety needs, and revising Safety Plans, LHATs, Chemical Inventories, and training to accommodate the significant shift of labs and personnel. Jennifer also assembled new safety binders, biological spill kits, biohazard waste containers, chemical spill kits, first aid kits, and various other safety equipment and supplies for all the new lab spaces.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Tarran Richardson, Laboratory Safety Professional at the School of Veterinary Medicine, praised Jennifer's seamless transition into her role and her innovative approach to safety training. Terry W. Lehenbauer, Professor and Director of VMTRC, expressed his pleasure at Jennifer's well-deserved recognition, highlighting her exceptional work and unwavering commitment to safety.

Jennifer's proactive initiatives, creativity in safety training, and dedication to her colleagues and the community exemplify the spirit of the Safety Star Program. Congratulations, Jennifer, on this well-deserved honor. Thank you for your outstanding contributions to improving safety at UC Davis!

First Quarter Safety Star 2024: Michael Backfish

Michael Backfish is presented with the Safety Star award and some star-shaped blue and gold balloons.

Department: Crocker Nuclear Laboratory
Position: Research and Development Engineer

The winner of the First Quarter of 2024 Safety Star Award is Research and Development Engineer Michael Backfish! He was nominated for great work in improving safety culture. 

Michael was nominated by Radiation Safety Officer, Lina Planutyte, who said, “Michael has been instrumental in keeping Crocker Nuclear Lab in compliance with campus Radiation and Lab Safety Programs. As a cyclotron operator, he frequently goes out of his typical duties to ensure safety, from writing up safety protocols and SOPs, to monitoring the space for potential contamination. His commitment to safety is commendable.” 

The award was delivered by Michael’s lab safety professional, Loan-Ahn Nguyen and presented by his supervisor Physics professor, Dr Eric Prebys. They too echoed Lina’s comments about the efforts Michael has dedicated to improving safety culture.

Second Quarter Safety Star 2023: Jessie Hammack

Safety Star Jan 2024

Department: Teaching & Research Animal Care Services (TRACS)
Position: Animal Care Supervisor

The Safety Star award for the second quarter of 2023 goes to Jessie Hammack. Jessie is the Animal Care Supervisor for several animal care facilities under the oversight of Teaching & Research Animal Care Services (TRACS).

As one of TRACS Animal Care Supervisors Jessie oversees the vivarium in Tupper Hall. This role provides independent research and technical support including determining personnel schedules and assignments, ensuring daily humane care of animals used for research and teaching, staff supervision, and providing ongoing training. She assists with safety training, and accident prevention, including following Occupational Health policies.

"Jessie continues to do a great job maintaining current facility safety standards and ensures that adherence to TRACS Standard Operating Procedures and research protocols follow Environmental Health and Safety standards," said Peter Vertz, Jessie's supervisor. "This in turn ensures that she is always looking out for her staff to ensure they are working in a safe environment. I am not surprised Jessie was honored as a safety star by EH&S.” 

Jessie's Safety Star recognition applauds her efforts at thinking of others’ safety first when she’s learning about the hazards involved with a new research project and working closely with EH&S when she needs support.

Examples of Jessie's approach to ensuring safety in the workplace include:

  • Scheduling a site visit for EHS' Chemical Hygiene Officer, Karen Gagnon, and Associate Biosafety Officer, Adrienne Zweifel, to view rabbit caging at Tupper Hall.
  • Recording a video of how rabbit cages are changed for staff training.
  • Coordinating with PIs to ensure they have ample time to prepare the facility for mosquito exclusion measures required for Zika Virus work.
  • Providing information about what engineering controls are available at her facilities so that PIs can ensure the facilities they need to use are included on the BUAs during amendments.
  • Providing comments on VHSS drafts before they are finalized to ensure her staff can easily understand the information provided.

Peter adds, “Jessie’s hard work, attention to detail, and dedication to her staff working with the teaching and research animals continue to be seen every day, and we are very fortunate to have her on our team. I am glad that Jessie can promote a safe working environment while continuing to do all the other important duties it takes to ensure humane animal care and supporting research at UC Davis. “

“I appreciate the recognition and all of the help that I have received from EH&S. I am happy that we can work together to make things safe for everyone.“ -- Jessie Hammack

First Quarter Safety Star 2023: Brett R Smith

Brett Smith

Department: School of Medicine
Position: Safety Officer

Brett Smith, a Safety Officer at the School of Medicine, has continually strived to create a secure environment for faculty, staff, and students. Brett’s collaborative approach and pursuit of safety excellence has made him an invaluable asset to the UC Davis community.

Shawn Rasmussen, Brett's supervisor, appreciates his work in supporting the School of Medicine faculty. One of Brett's most recent initiatives involves partnering with the Biosafety Office to develop guidelines for groups collecting human specimens that do not currently fall under the Biosafety Office's jurisdiction. Additionally, Brett has taken on the role of mediator in response to Biosafety lab audit findings in shared spaces, working closely with multiple labs to resolve issues quickly and effectively.

In the past, Brett has made significant contributions to the UC Davis community by supporting the Genome Center's COVID testing efforts and organizing a one-day flu shot clinic in Tupper Hall to help School of Medicine researchers comply with the flu vaccination mandate. He has also played a crucial role in implementing ChemTag with 50 participating labs.

As a safety officer, Brett is responsible for developing, implementing, and maintaining safety programs at UC Davis. He collaborates with faculty, staff, and students to foster a safety culture and ensure regulatory compliance. 

When asked about the challenges faced by safety officers in an academic setting like UC Davis, Brett emphasizes the uniqueness of each lab and the importance of getting to know lab teams to help them navigate potential situations. For those looking to pursue a career in safety or promote safety on campus, Brett has an advice for you: “Start learning about different fields that don’t directly relate to your lab work. Try to have a good, well-rounded understanding of lab safety.”

Brett credits  his success to his team and supervisors he works with, noting that he can always count on their “help, advice, and guidance” when needed. 

Fourth Quarter Safety Star: Leticia Chacon Rodriguez

woman standing with two balloons and coffee cup with Safety Star Award certificate for Leticia Rodriguez

Department: Viticulture and Enology
Position: UC Davis Teaching Winery Manager

Before you get the chance to ask a question or congratulate this quarter’s Safety Star, she’s going to let you know— “It’s not just me. It’s my team. That’s the biggest thing people need to know.” 

That’s the type of researcher Leticia Chacon Rodriguez is. Whether it’s praising her students’ safety culture or admiring her team’s improvements on their Standard Operating Procedures, Leticia takes every opportunity to highlight her peoples’ success and place value on the group.

Fermin Ramirez and Matharin Lee, Leticia’s team members, have helped her manage an intimidating list of hazards associated with the winery— flammables, confined spaces, lockout tagout devices, heat exposure and dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. 

Environmental Health & Safety requires researchers to provide site-specific training in the form of a checklist and explanation of each hazard, but Leticia goes above and beyond by providing a comprehensive course in winery safety— complete with a powerpoint presentation, a guided tour of the entire facility and a set of quizzes to teach and reinforce the information. 

Moreover, Leticia builds a culture that encourages lab members to practice safety, not just in her class but for the rest of their careers. “I’m always trying to communicate the idea that safety is the responsibility of the group. And that it’s very important we never stop learning. No matter what your experience level, everyone makes mistakes— so it’s important to learn from them and be open to the idea that others have things to teach us.”

Leticia’s nominator, and Department Safety Coordinator for the Viticulture and Enology Department Vanessa Lieberman, remarks that “Leticia not only values safety, she has a passion for it. She never stops thinking about how she can improve things for others, and her happy, can-do attitude is reassuring and infectious. She’s truly deserving of this award and should be recognized for her efforts.”

Third Quarter 2022 Safety Star: Christophe Morrisseau

man holds balloon and safety star certificate

DepartmentEntomology and Nematology
Position: Researcher

As a researcher in the Department of Nematology and Entomology, Christophe Morrisseau is constantly up against a prevailing safety risk: chemicals. His lab has around 4,000 chemicals ranging from what he considers “normal” (flammables, corrosives and carcinogens) to things like pyrophorics and explosives.

To manage the risks associated with these compounds, Christophe prioritizes training above all else; anyone who steps foot into his lab undergoes an exhaustive series of modules and reviews over 25 Standard Operation Procedures (SOP’s.)

Christophe’s supervisor, Bruce Hammock describes him as a “wonderful scientist, who is both proactive and effective” and remarks that he “goes above and beyond when presenting lectures on safety.” Bruce is also proud of the way Christophe runs group meetings, making time to review Safety Near Misses as a way to re-examine proper protocol and encourage open communication.

In addition to proper and continuous training, Christophe has found that “the keys to reducing risk are teaching lab members to be organized and use critical thinking.” He notes, “We have a lot of smart folks here, and it’s good to take advantage of that to promote safety.”

Second Quarter 2022 Safety Star: Sarah Blasczynski

Sarah Blasczynski standing outside with balloons and Safety Star Award

Department: School of Veterinary Medicine: Animal and Food
Position: Animal Health Technician

Sarah Blasczynski, an Animal Health Technician with the Vet Med School, goes above and beyond to foster a safe environment for staff, students and livestock. Among her most notable contributions is formalizing standard operating and training procedures for captive bolt usage at the Vet Med School, the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab and squeeze chute operations. 

Julia Means, a Lead General Safety Specialist with Environmental Health & Safety, who nominated Sarah for the Safety Star Award emphasized that she “does an amazing job at proactively identifying potential hazards and puts in tremendous effort to find engineering solutions.” When Sarah noticed that C-barn could benefit from updated fencing that allows for safer livestock release and corralling control, she applied for funding and was awarded BSAS requests that allowed the project to move forward. 

Sarah’s efforts toward improving safety are thorough and comprehensive, which often means they have an impact beyond the scope of her own operations. Her recent mission to identify a new vendor to re-certify cranes and hoists was an impressive undertaking that involved researching reputable vendors, requesting quotes, and scheduling meetings with vendors and managers throughout the School of Veterinary Medicine. Thanks to her hard work, she was able to assist other managers and their staff so they could benefit from the new vendor without having to duplicate the project management work.

First Quarter 2022 Safety Star: Kelly Crucillo

Kelly Crucillo, First quarter 2022 Safety Star

Department: UC Davis' Medical Microbiology and Immunology Department

Position: Lab Manger at the Coccidioidomycosis Serology Laboratory and Clinical Services

Our most recent Safety Star is Kelly Crucillo, who manages the Coccidioidomycosis Serology Laboratory and Clinical Services for UC Davis' Medical Microbiology and Immunology Department. 

Kelly has been recognized for always prioritizing lab safety, and for being very innovative with her approach to raise awareness about safety measures. Just recently, when the lab celebrated its annual Lab Safety Month , Kelly designed interactive games and quizzes to teach the lab team about safety. A “PPE Relay” and a “What's wrong with this photo?” game were among the creative ways she teaches the lab about safety.

Kelly wanted to be add that the Lab Safety Month was a collaborative process started with her lab members, including Wendy Tsang.

She shared a quote about safety from her safety mentor, DSC Judy Edman, "You will only ever be as safe as the person next to you", and also mentions EH&S Lab Safety Professional John Lomas as a safety inspiration.

Dr. Satya Dandekar, Kelly’s supervisor and a professor of microbiology and the department's chairperson, appreciated Kelly’s presence in the lab. 

“Kelly has been an exceptional support for the Clinical Diagnostic Laboratory as well as for the MMI department,” said Dr. Dandekar. “Her work ethic, and her commitment to the laboratory safety training and protocols for the staff are remarkable. Kelly has been compassionate and supportive of her colleagues, especially during the pandemic times. We are greatly appreciative of Kelly’s leadership in managing the laboratory safety protocols and for her compassion and care of the laboratory staff. Her diligent efforts have contributed to the stellar safety records of the Clinical Diagnostic Laboratory and its consistent recertification. She truly is a Safety Star and is well deserving of this recognition.” 

Safety Officer Brett R. Smith, who nominated Kelly as Safety Star, described her as having “greatly increased the safety culture of her lab by using fun and interactive ways to discuss and learn about safety.”

Fourth Quarter 2021 Safety Star: Lisa Franzi

Safety Star Lisa Franzi

Department: School of Medicine Department of Pulmonary and Critical Medicine 
Position: Research associate

Lisa was nominated by Lab Safety Professional John Lomas, due to her efforts in the cleanout of lab in her department. John noted that she did this even though she did not work for the departing Principal Investigators. The issues the lab left behind were complex, and cleanup entailed Lisa taking extra, technical training. Overall the efforts took six months.

Lisa said she thinks about safety as "the invisible guardian around the lab. Someone might not consciously think about it, but the lab runs smoother because of the efforts made to attain and keep the highest levels of safety and security."

Lisa's supervisor, Dr. Nicholas Kenyon said, "Lisa has been a tremendous asset to our division and department for 20 years. We rely on her for personnel training in lab safety protocols for several of our labs, and she has long been our go-to expert. We are very lucky to have her and thank you for this recognition for Lisa. It is highly deserved!"

Third Quarter 2021 Safety Star: Krisztina Forward

Safety Star Krisztina Forward

Department: School of Veterinary Medicine: Academic and Research
Position: Safety Officer

The latest Safety Star winner is the first one to have won twice: Krisztina won in 2017 when she was a lab manager in the School of Medicine.

Krisztina was nominated by EH&S HazComm Specialist Bernie Tano. Krisztina works closely with EH&S on many issues, but Bernie focused on their collaboration on monthly Eyewash/Safety Shower (EW/SS) activations, saying,

"In early 2020, the EHS Eyewash/Safety Shower and Fire Extinguisher (EW/SS/FE) pilot program ended. Without this service, Krisztina took action to replicate the program for SVM and build the program with SVM student employees. She has successfully recruited and trained student employees and has established an effective SVM EW/SS and FE monthly inspection program. I applaud her success and appreciate her drive and enthusiasm to help others meet compliance requirements. I miss working with her but am very excited to see all the she has accomplished."

Characteristically modest, Krisztina pointed out that the EW/SS/FE program was initially established by Larry Neal (now retired) and the late Shirley Liu. She was able to improve upon this existing program working with EH&S. She also gave a shout-out to Maura Ferrero and a student worker, Nolan Finke.

Maura Ferrero, her counterpart in the Vet Med Teaching Hospital says that Krisztina is an amazing coworker, and went above and beyond in training her when she was new. She goes on, "Her attention to details, how much she cares about safety, and her personality are just a few reasons why she deserves this award!"

Congratulations, Krisztina!

Second Quarter 2021 Safety Star: Jeffrey Buscheck

Safety Star Jeff Buscheck

Department: UC Pavement Research Center
Position: Research and development engineer and lab manager.

Jeff Buscheck, a lab manager and research and development engineer at the UC Pavement Research Center, is the newest Safety Star. "I have been fortunate to work with Jeff for the last two years and witness the transformation in safety practices he has championed," remarked EH&S Industrial Hygienist, Suman Dhal. "I nominated Jeff as a Safety Star because he fosters a culture of shared responsibility for safety, and acts as an extension of Safety Services, which makes our job a lot easier. I thank him for his commitment to safety and his continued support."

He came to work at UC Davis as an outgrowth of studies as an undergraduate. During his last year, he took three courses from his current PI, Dr. John Harvey. They discussed the possibility of growing the lab space for material testing at UC Davis. He was hired in July 2014 and together with their team, they have built a research and teaching lab that serves several transportation infrastructure research projects and supports two undergraduate courses.

He says, "My role in safety has grown with our scope of work performed....COVID-19 has brought unique safety is a never-ending process and I am having the time of my life along the way."

Jeff's responsibilities are expansive, including staff training, process documentation, improving the infrastructure and equipment; combined with growing the technical expertise of everyone working in the program.

"Jeff has done an outstanding job of increasing the professionalism and safety consciousness since he took over daily operations," remarked Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor, John Harvey. "All aspects of the lab have been part of his exemplary drive and attention to continuous quality improvement. A well-deserved honor!"

First Quarter 2021 Safety Star: Brenda Cameron

Safety Star Brenda Cameron

Department: Evolution and Ecology
Position: Departmental Safety Coordinator and lab manager.

Brenda was nominated by the (now retired) CAO of her department, Carla Munoz. Carla said, "Brenda Cameron is our departmental safety officer, as well as a lab manager for several PI's in Evolution and Ecology - so she is a very busy person! Departmental Safety duties have really increased due to COVID requirements. In addition to a full lab renovation occurring in one of the labs that she manages during this time, where she nearly single-handedly cleared out the lab, she has been a key team member along with the CAO and chair in helping with all of the safety requirements required to allow essential and approved research ramp-up projects within our building and assigned areas. She created and maintains our calendar system for contact tracing, she has advised on research safety as well as posting signage and evaluating lab spaces for compliance. This service has been invaluable.

Brenda coordinated a shared pickup of unused chemicals by EH&S. This was a great way to rid the labs of chemicals that they no longer need as well as making them available for other researchers.

Brenda also works with our assigned EH&S Specialist to help labs within our building to remain in compliance with all requirements. She provides training to new lab managers and new staff/students/faculty. She assists with fire safety inspections and preparation for Yolo County CUPA inspections and answers questions in support of the chemical inventory. She revises our departmental IIPP and ensures that labs have updated material for their safety binders. Brenda also contributes information to be included in our quarterly safety email where we remind labs to make sure all new students have completed safety training, safety information is discussed and recorded in their safety binder in support of CUPA requirements and any other updated info related to training opportunities or seasonal safety matters. We are truly lucky to have Brenda on our team and strongly support her nomination as a true Safety Star!"  

See all past Safety Stars!